Some people instinctively know what their priorities are. The classified section of the Quay County Sun newspaper in June of 1978 contained this ad: “Farmer with 160 irrigated acres wants marriage-minded woman with tractor. When replying, please send picture of the tractor.” That is someone who has his priorities straight!
One of the first things I learned in the pastorate was to set priorities. If you don’t learn this discipline, ministry can become more confusing and complicated then it needs to be.
When the Apostle Paul was writing his last letter from a Roman prison as the parchment was filling up he had some very important things to say to the young preacher, Timothy. He was helping Timothy with some priorities,
“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” -II Timothy 4:1-4
Not long ago I was asked to talk about what I have learned about pastoring and preaching from nearly 40 years of ministry. I thought long about the answer and the Lord gave me six priorities that I needed for my ministry. this post will share three of them. These are broad brush strokes to consider.
The first thing for a long and effective ministry is to develop a foundation.
Foundation of Character. When we talk about foundation it must include a few areas. There must be a foundation of character. This qualifies us or disqualifies us from ministry. It will determine at what level we minister (Psalm 11:3). The biblical criteria for pastors are mostly character issues. I have seen that what can be built by a powerful charismatic personality can be destroyed by lack of personal character. I think it’s your life message. The Lord is intent on making you a message as well as giving you a message. Character is something formed in us by godly influence, godly upbringing (although this aspect can be overcome), discipline, trials, stresses, mentoring, and sensitivity to God and His Word. The little things in life are important. It’s the “little foxes that spoil the vines” (Song of Solomon 2:15).
Foundation of Education. We need a foundation of education. This gives us content to ministry life. This is a reference to wisdom, knowledge, and insight gained through experience, study and training. This keeps us from running like Ahimaaz who wanted to run with zeal but no clear message. (II Samuel 18:19ff).
Most of the great Bible characters spent years of preparation to develop “content” in their “ministry” life. When I left my job at John Deere in Moline, Illinois, I wanted a foundation for a life-long ministry. When I got to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, MO, I signed up for the hardest professors I could because I didn’t leave my life in Illinois to play games in ministry. I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to learn. I wanted to be effective. I was told I was crazy but it helped me to have a great foundation of disciplined study that I knew I would need the rest of my ministry life. I was not raised in a Christian home. I remember going to church only a handful of times growing up so I knew I needed the education and training.
Foundation of Training. Along with a great education, I needed some “on the job” training. I found that mentoring, practical experience, and personal discipleship as an associate pastor helped prepare me for a long ministry. I personally believe every pastor should be an associate first. It gives a great perspective for team building in the ministry. Whereas character qualifies a good minister, content adds wisdom for ministry.
Your foundation develops your capacity. Capacity not only involves knowing what you know, it helps you realize where to go for what you don’t know. It helps you understand how you are gifted and knowing your strengths and weaknesses so we can move toward fulfilling our full measure and potential in serving the Lord.
The second thing I found I needed was to do as one man said, “Dig my faith well deep.” I am reminded what the writer of Hebrews says, “But without faith it is impossible to please God: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Ministry is the greatest calling in life! Wonderful things happen but along with those great exciting moments come challenges. Guaranteed! Therefore we need to dig that faith well deep! During the ministry journey, we find it necessary to dip into that faith well often. Life and ministry will challenge our faith. Things can change in a flash. We don’t want the faith well to dry up when it’s needed the most.
My ministry calling took me from my home in the Land of Lincoln to the Ozark hills of Missouri and then further southwest to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Along the way I needed a growing faith. I thought I understood about faith when I resigned my job at John Deere after eight years, took my little family and headed to Baptist Bible College. I found out my faith would be challenged in a greater way than I expected. I was called foolish for leaving my job at John Deere and not knowing where I would end up. The Lord provided every step of the way but not without much concern on my part and hard lessons in prayer and faith. I had never been on my knees begging God like I learned to do the first year of Bible college. The Lord provided just enough part-time work to get by and the second semester I found the job that I would keep my entire time. As the school years went by, I found that the Lord could move on the hearts of folks to help us as the needs surfaced. This was a humbling and hard part of my faith walk but it helped me to understand the faithfulness of the Lord when I got in full-time ministry. I have found the lessons learned then helped as an associate pastor and later as lead pastor. Dr. Gillming used to say, ‘You can’t traffic in unlearned truths.”
The fact is, ministry is too unpredictable to be motivated by security, It’s too unprofitable to be motivated by money. It’s too demanding to be motivated by pleasure, it’s too criticized to be motivated by fame. Our ministry should be motived by the pleasure of God, and God is pleased when we have ministry powered by faith.
It’s human nature. This is seen in Luke 18 when the Pharisee and the tax collector went up to the Temple to pray and one was self-righteous and the other repentant.This is an easy and subtle trap to fall into in any field of work.
Especially for men of God. As ministers of the gospel, each may have different spiritual gifts, or some may have privileges others may not have. We compare, contrast, and weigh our ministries by the successes, failures, and expectations of others. Regardless of your stage or level of ministry, this temptation is a persistent foe. The overachiever in us all wants to excel and advance. We want to win souls, build buildings, grow ministries, speak frequently, minister often, and increase our network. However, some men, in the name of ministry, are simply trying to make a name for themselves. If we are not careful, we will compare and contrast our lives with others thus changing our motivation for what we do.
Our success or failure is not determined by another’s experience; it is measured by our obedience to God’s Word, and acceptance to God’s will. When we compare our ministries with others one of two things will happen: we will be full of pride or full of pity. Full of pride if we are doing “better” than the next guy.Full of self pity if we fall short of his success. The Lord doesn’t want our ministries to be characterized by either one of these mindsets.
God doesn’t give everyone the same ministry. Noah had a building ministry. Moses had a shepherding ministry. David had a writing and singing ministry. Paul had a church planting ministry. We all have particular tasks and assignments that are ordained by God. Most of the time we get in trouble when we covet what God has allocated to others.
My true measure of success is my obedience and faithfulness to Christ. If it is His will for me to pastor 30, 300 or 3000 people, I must commit my allegiance and affection to that plan, regardless of its size. In doing that, I have fulfilled my ultimate duty – submission to God’s will and design for my life.
The comparison trap is different from learning and observing others. We can and should learn from others without falling into the comparison trap. Let’s keep our eyes Jesus.
These are just a few of the priorities shared by Pastor Linzy Slayden. The rest of the priorities will be included in my new book, Ministry Lessons, scheduled to be published near the end of the Summer 2019.